Yours affectionately, Charles

Glen Newey

‘Queen Victoria stuck to the throne like shit to a blanket,’ my grandmother would occasionally remark during one of her Benson & Hedges-fuelled historical disquisitions. Annette Crosbie had then lately been on telly in Edward the Seventh, as the Prince of Wales’s dismayingly adhesive materfamilias. Bertie, as he was known to his intimates, spent a lot of his long wait for the throne on grouse moors and in Parisian knocking-shops. It could be argued that he was spending his time more fruitfully than the present Prince of Wales, whose ten-year-old letters to government ministers have just been published after a long campaign by the Guardian.

Unlike the Duke of York, whose political views seem to lie somewhere between Nigel Farage and the EDL, Charles comes across in the memos as a well-meaning dunderhead, dabbling in affairs of state with the slightly bemused air of a prep-school geography teacher. Charles gamely lobbies away with Labour ministers, with a large and varied squadron of hobby horses, including British beef for the MoD, less red tape for farmers, the badness of the Lynx helicopter, the importance of teaching English and History, and Scott and Shackleton’s ‘iconic’ huts in the Antarctic.

Quite a few of the letters concern animals. Badgers – foes to the farmer’s friend, the cow – have got it coming to them. Through ‘overpopulation’ the stripy little brutes threaten ‘expensive’ cattle with bovine TB, which may metastasise, Charles thinks, into a new BSE or foot-and-mouth crisis. On the other hand, albatrosses merit special concern; this aristocrat among sea birds often gets snagged in fishing lines intended for Patagonian Toothfish in the southern oceans. How Elliot Morley, the recipient of this missive as environment minister, is meant to redress this situation, is not explained.

He’s long on old-world courtesies, conceding to ministers that he is ‘old fashioned’ and ‘a complete bore’. But the prince is not above a bit of self-puffery, as he professes to Blair that he’d ‘like to think that my Foundation for the Built Environment is one of the leading sources of expertize’ on where to site hospitals, his worry apparently being that the countryside is set to be swamped by the government’s hospital-building programme. Poundbury, Charles’s Lego village in Dorset, gets a couple of name-checks. The now defunct Office of Fair Trading, charged with consumer protection and competitiveness, comes in for vitriol for its failure to aid dairy co-operatives, ‘which is, of course, ridiculous’.

Ministers respond politely to these importunities while giving little away. No doubt Charles has become used to impassive interlocutors through his chats with marrows. As education secretary, Ruth Kelly signs herself ‘Your Obedient Servant’; Charles Clarke gives the prince the full Debrett's ‘I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant’; Blair signs off with a chummy ‘Yours ever, Tony’. The prince himself tops and tails the typed letters with ‘black spider’ salutations. He ends letters to Tessa Jowell, then culture minister, with ‘Yours affectionately’.

David Cameron has pledged to look at tighting the Freedom of Information act so that ministers can veto the disclosure of this sort of thing. The old Labour eminence Jack Straw, whose Commons career ended with his suspension this year after being caught on camera hawking his tips to a bogus consultancy firm, has been on air to denounce the publication. ‘If you are entitled to know what he is saying,’ Straw said, ‘then it would stop him saying anything at all.’ But then, as they say, one person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens, and silence may be the counsel of wisdom. Apart from the odd nudge and purr – her response to last year's Scottish referendum result, after she'd urged Scots to 'think very carefully' about whether they really wanted independence – the queen has managed to keep mum for 63 regnal years. If sticking to the throne is your aim, it’s been a winning strategy.


  • 15 May 2015 at 1:37pm
    Harry Stopes says:
    Surely the political views of the Duke of York more closely resemble those of the English Defence League than of Électricité de France?

  • 15 May 2015 at 5:04pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Our next monarch? Let's hope that she gets to her century, just like mum. Does anybody care about what this man writes? And what was the point of trying to prevent publication? Try to stop him making a fool of himself? Will the Mail serialise the letters or will they be published in a nice buckram binding for the Christmas coffee tables? I just wonder what the Queen thinks about this - should convince her to soldier on as long as there's life in her.

    • 17 May 2015 at 9:26pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Yes, even the "Sex Pistols" were fond of the Queen. Her mirror-like neutrality is extraordinary. Charles' ideas are not as harmlessly sentimental as people like to think. He wants to press and oppress us into agreeably cliché'd neoclassical moulds.

      He once said English teaching in British state schools was "so bloody bad". What did he know? It's like Paul McCartney tearing up the striking teacher's leaflet when his own multimillion-pound musak was more than bloody bad.

      The day the Queen dies, the whole complexion of the country will change, mark my words, they are the words of the prophet written on the walls of the subway under Park Lane. The crowds for Di's funeral would have burnt every scintilla of the palace and all the dogs in it had the monarchy had a single nuance out of place. Those days will come again if Charles even attempts to put the boot in.

  • 19 May 2015 at 5:59pm
    AlexS says:
    Mirror-like neutrality?
    Windsor interfered in Scottish affairs even more egregiously back in the seventies, clearly expressing misgivings about any move towards independence. Yeah I think you're right, Charles, described by Liz herself as "useless" will mean a massive boost for republicanism.

    • 20 May 2015 at 12:33pm
      Simon Wood says: @ AlexS
      I felt sorry for Charles for the first time, yesterday, having to shake hands with Martin McGuinness.

      Nationalism - dear, oh dear.

    • 20 May 2015 at 1:11pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ AlexS
      Re: "Mirror-like neutrality"

      Apart from the question of whether she is 'neutral' (I suspect that, in fact, E II R, in common with many aristocrats and rich people in general, holds some views many would consider rather right-wing) or just (mostly) refrains from making public her views, surely a mirror reflects back what it sees. This odd formulation (if I understand it well, which is often doubtful with SW's posts) would give us a monarch who just agreed with whichever latest opinion she had heard, rather than one who was neutral.

      Once again, Simon Wood displays his ever-surprising knack for taking ordinary English words and phrases and turning them into barely comprehensible gobbledegook. The non-sequiturs in every paragraph, the peculiar comparisons, the spurious apostrophe in 'clichéd'...


    • 21 May 2015 at 9:51am
      Michael Carley says: @ Simon Wood
      I think you mean Gerry Adams, unless all the Irish look the same to you. Personally, I'd almost feel sorry for Adams.

    • 21 May 2015 at 10:11am
      frmurphy98 says: @ Simon Wood
      Presumably, it would have been better for Ireland if she had remained in the beloved "Union"?

    • 21 May 2015 at 12:00pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Michael Carley

    • 21 May 2015 at 12:19pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Alan Benfield
      Exactly, they never asked Blake not to non-seq, bruv.

      My main point, though buried in the extravagant, Byzantine tapestry of my weave - the glittering jewels, the glancing thread, the peacock's-eye motifs - is that we're lucky to have a figurehead as simple and clear and the Queen.

    • 21 May 2015 at 6:24pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ Simon Wood
      Got it: you're actually Russell Brand.

      It was the 'bruv' that gave you away.

    • 21 May 2015 at 6:46pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ Alan Benfield
      P.S. 'Byzantine' is a byword for complex: you're just garbled, bruv.

    • 21 May 2015 at 7:14pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Alan Benfield
      God save the Queen.

    • 21 May 2015 at 9:00pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Simon Wood
      P.S. I am a man with the end-of-life intense interest in life that starts after the age of 60. Layers of meaning begin to fall like veils over a topic, which does not encourage the trolling out of stale sentences of prose, or the steam of bile, or the slopping out of entrails to be poked around with a stick for answers.

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